Francophone organization supporting abused women receives third refusal from CMHC

Maison Interlude House’s (MIH) project to build second-stage housing for abused women in the region has once again been denied funding by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

MIH is a non-profit organization with 40 years of experience that has demonstrated the excellence of its services as well as its sound management of the funds entrusted to it by the provincial government. In addition to operating a short-term shelter for abused women and their dependents, MIH offers a multitude of outreach services. These services support women who wish to leave an abusive environment, but do not necessarily require emergency shelter.

These services are provided in English and French in the organization’s six satellite offices. Each year, MIH assists more than 500 abused women in Prescott, Russell, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry counties.

An advanced and well-developed project

Maison Interlude House’s most recent project, a 24-unit second-stage housing unit, aims to provide abused women with medium-term affordable housing in order to allow them stability and ongoing support. Second-stage housing programs (or transitional housing) are recognized in Canada as a critical step in advocacy against violence in order to prevent victims from returning to an abusive environment due to financial insecurity.

MIH’s second stage housing has been in incubation for five years and has received support from the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) , the Province of Ontario and Member of Parliament Francis Drouin. The project has also received 35 letters of support from community agencies and partners. Last year, the Township of Russell offered to sell land at cost, representing an in-kind contribution of $470,000. Since then, MIH has purchased the land, successfully amended the zoning, and proceeded with the plan design and specifications.

Muriel Lalonde, Executive Director of MIH. Submitted Photo

Staff and volunteers at MIH were extremely disappointed that funding for the project was denied by the CMHC for the third time.

“It’s really distressing for the Eastern Ontario community that this project is not getting adequate funding,” said Muriel Lalonde, Executive Director of MIH. “The whole community is behind us. It’s even more frustrating when you consider that MIH has submitted two applications, in November 2021 and February 2022, to a special CMHC program specifically for shelters and transitional housing. Unfortunately, none of the projects east of Toronto received funding. Our community, rural and francophone, is once again left behind.”

Last November, MIH received more bad news. Another application, this time for seed funding, was denied due to lack of program funds. MIH has been trying to contact the Minister responsible for CMHC, The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, in writing since August of 2022, but has received no response.

“We are seeking answers.” Lalonde said. “We are trying to understand why our project was not selected even though it is well designed, that it is the most advanced (according to Women’s Shelters Canada) and because it meets all the criteria that CMHC must prioritize.”

A housing shortage with dramatic consequences

For more than a year, MIH’s shelter has been almost permanently full. While COVID-19 restrictions are partly responsible for this, it is the length of the women’s stay which complicates for the current situation. When women are ready to leave the emergency shelter, they often cannot can’t because there is no housing available to accommodate them.

Currently, most women stay in the shelter for 6 to 9 months. Five years ago, stays were rarely longer than 3 months. Second-stage housing would help alleviate the impact of the current housing shortage, which can have dramatic consequences for MIH clients.

“It takes a lot of courage for victims of violence to contact us and ask for help. If they do, it is because they have no other place to go into escape the abuser and are therefore extremely vulnerable,” Lalonde explained. “When we are full, we do everything we can to find another safe facility for these women, but this is not always possible.”

“What happens to these women? How many feminicides will have to take place in our region before the authorities act?”

Alarming numbers

In Canada, every six days, a woman is killed by her spouse or ex-spouse. On November 25, 2022, the Ontario Association of Interval Houses (OAITH) released a list acknowledging 52 women and girls lost their lives to feminicide in Ontario between 2021-2022. Of those, 17 per cent of feminicide victims were killed in a rural or small population center. Those experiencing gender-based violence in rural areas often face additional risks and barriers to support, including physical and social isolation, long distances between neighbours, lack of or no accessible transportation, limited services, lack of anonymity, animal and livestock responsibilities, and limited affordable housing.

More than 50 women using the services of Interlude House are currently waiting for affordable housing. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, more than 6,000 women and children sleep in shelters each night to escape domestic violence. Children who witness violence in their home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes.

According to a Statistics Canada 2019 survey, there are only about 124 second-stage shelters in the country, with a total of almost 900 units. In 2018, nearly 80,000 women, including about 25,000 in Ontario, experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

The affordable housing crisis is at the heart of this issue. The availability of affordable housing, as anticipated in second-stage housing, would allow women victims of domestic violence to leave the abusive home, and find housing where they can live free from abuse.

“I call on the federal and provincial governments to join community, municipal, regional and provincial actors so that the project of a second-stage house can be implemented quickly in Prescott-Russell,” Lalonde said. “Funds must be made available to allow women victims of violence to start anew safely. Too many lives have already been lost.”